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Carle "Hammer" Clarke    



      6th Weather Squadron (Mobile) - 1959 to 1963


The following article "Weather Man" is a story about our own Carle "Hammer" Clarke as published in the Alamogordo Daily News page 12A on Sunday, April 30, 2006 and written by Michael Shinabery, Staff Writer.


HAD AN INTERESTING TIME --- The Air Force 6th Weather Squadron painted this message over an old sign when it’s members left Palmyra in 1962. According to Carle Clarke (inset, in 1962 on the island) the sign had said “Welcome to Palmyra Island, the fastest drag strip in the South Pacific.” The island, only 6 feet at it’s highest point, had a 6,000 foot-long runway. The land had no potable water --- water had to be distilled --- and vegetation was cleared so as not to damage the undercarriage of landing aircraft.


 The political posturing in the early years of the Cold War was unmistakable, and Carle Clarke expected military preparedness to escalate as well. “We knew it was coming. It was building up. They said, ‘This year we’re not going to Tornado Alley, we’re going to do atomic tests,” said Clarke. “And away we went.”

Clarke was in the 6th Weather Squadron MBL, or mobile. Although he was based at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, the squadron provid­ed weather support by charting conditions during inclement weather seasons. He said he was always “on the go, somewhere.”

Weather was far from the field he had hoped to work in when he joined the Air Force. “I love airplanes. I’m crazy about airplanes. I thought I was going to get to work on airplanes, and they sent me to weather school. I was not impressed,” Clarke said. But the brass was impressed by his test scores. ‘They needed lots of weather people at that time They were cramming people through weather school lickety split,” Clarke said.

In 1962, when the military prepared to test nuclear missiles in the South Pacific, they needed such personnel to chart just where the winds might carry blast winds and radiation. "They needed all this upper air data to know which way the winds were going to blow: the right way or the wrong way,” he said.

During the spring and summer of 1962, Clarke was stationed on Palmyra Island, 352 nautical miles north of the equator and 960 miles from Honolulu. The 6th had weather support teams as well on the islands of Christmas, Johnston and Malden, and the French Frigate Shoals. He helped prepare four upper air “soundings” a day, charting data from the Earth’s surface up to 100,000 feet above the planet gathered via a balloon released into the atmosphere. The balloon would ascend. until pressure caused it to explode, and the data “capsule” would — hopefully — parachute back to Earth.

Clarke’s contribution was part of Joint Task Force 8, a project which detonated air bursts near Johnston Island — the world’s last above-ground testing before the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks Treaty sent testing underground.

The tests he witnessed that year were impres­sive. “It was like false sunrise, getting lighter and lighter, a great big ball of red. The whole world lit up,” Clarke said. “That was so impressive. It lit the whole sky up at two in the morning. Even guys who were sleeping said, ‘Wake me up so I can see it.”’

On July 25, 1962, one of those tests failed when a nuclear warhead atop a Thor rocket literally melt­ed down and Johnston Island was subsequently evacuated. Over the radio, Clarke listened to a voice count­down to detonation. After a pause, he heard an “Oh my God,” fol­lowed by repeated confirmations that the test was negative.

As Clarke put it, daily life and duty on Palmyra involved creativity to maintain sanity. “You worked, drank beer, fished, drank beer, went fishing, swimming, that was it. Oh, we had 16-millimeter movies,” he said. While they were the same 35 mm features show­ing in the states, they did not come with the wide angle scope needed to properly show on a screen. According to Clarke, the projector sans scope distorted the human anatomy”: the image of the body was compressed, which elongated prominent fea­tures “every time a female laid down.” Not surprisingly, the movies were popular. “It doesn’t take much to keep troops entertained,” Clarke said.

During the day those troops caught sand sharks, manta rays, and nocturnal coconut crabs in the jungle. No one feared venturing into the jungle because what the island did not have was snakes. There were no indigenous natives on Palmyra, either, making everyone there stationed by the military or a civilian under government contract.

What was more than plentiful, thought were the sand terns, a bird he described as nothing more than an annoying pest that made its home around the 6,000-foot-long runway built on the island. They’d just reproduce day in and day out. They’d raise their chicks, feed them, teach them to fly and then the cycle started all over again,” Clarke said. “Planes used to come in. We used to pull dead birds out of the engines, pull dead bird parts out.” They knew once the planes restarted their engines for takeoff, more birds would be sucked in.

Following a week-long rain that obliterated the sun — Clarke described it as extremely depressing the terns gorged themselves on fish that washed onto the beach. The birds had eaten so much they couldn’t get off the ground,” Clarke said. The troops set about chasing terns from the run­way which made the birds, their stomachs full, get sick and disgorge. ‘There were dead sardines all over the place. That’s what they’d eaten. For a couple of days it was really rank out there,” he said.

Still, Air Force life agreed with Clarke. “Some of the guys just didn’t like it, made themselves miserable. You just gotta like it,” Clarke said. “I was never much of a fisherman, but I got to like fishing. The fishing was outstanding. It was awesome. We used to make jokes at lunchtime; they’d have hot dogs (and we’d say) save a piece of your hot dog and go fishing.”

Clarke stayed in the military nearly 23 years, four of those with the 6th. “I liked it. I liked the outfit. I liked the attitude. It was a “go get ‘em” attitude,” he said. “I spent the rest of the time trying to get back in with the 6th.” He continued working in weather, serving in France, the Philippines and Alaska before retiring to Alamogordo because he liked — the weather.

“I hate cold weather,” Clarke said of his native Maine. “I got here in January of  '76. It wasn’t bad. I’d left Illinois — it was cold and miserable. A lot of snow on the ground, probably 20 degrees. I got here, thought, ‘This is great weather.”’

BIRD IS THE WORD — Carle Clarke, on Palmyra Island In 1962, holds up a sand tern, a pesky bird that caused all kinds of problems with aircraft engines. He’s wearing “the uni­form of the day.”  Heat and humidity prohibited wearing the Air Force regular blue uniforms, which had to be stored in a “hot locker” with a light that kept the cloth from mildewing.

READY TO BATTLE --- Coconut crabs were cantankerous and plentiful on Palmyra Island.

DOUBLE DUTY --- This was the only firefighting vehicle on Palmyra Island --- and was virtually useless because the firefighting foam was quickly used up to cool beer.

MEMENTO --- Carle Clarke holds up the emblem of the 6th Weather Squadron with which he served.

Up • Robert Bongiovanni • Carle Clarke • Stephen Gladish • Gerald Guay • Ted Lungwitz • Dave Weiner • Gordon & Barb McCann • "Tex" Winder

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